Saturday, August 01, 2009

Memoir Review: Jantsen’s Gift

I received an advanced review copy of the memoir, Jantsen’s Gift by Pam Cope with Aimee Molloy, quite a few months back. Every time I went to my bookshelf to choose a new book to read, I passed it up, until I finally felt guilty for neglecting to review it for so long. I’m glad I finally read this inspiring story.

I know why I avoided it for so long. From the back cover, I knew that the memoir begins with the sudden death of Pam’s 15-year old son. My own son turns fifteen in a few weeks, and I just couldn’t face reading about something so unthinkable. It was difficult to read that first section of the book, but it sets the stage for the rest of Pam’s remarkable story. Once I got past my initial dread, I could scarcely put this compelling book down.

Suffering from a deep and crippling depression after her son’s death, Pam was pondering how to best put her son’s memorial fund to use, when she recalled some close friends who were trying to help a group of orphans in Vietnam:

In early November, Randy and I drove to Fayetteville to meet the Harlans for lunch at our favorite Mexican restaurant, and to talk about the decision we had made: We wanted to donate Jantsen’s money to them for their work in Vietnam. They were touched by the idea, but before they accepted Carol looked at me over her tacos.

“You know,” she said, “I’m going to Vietnam over Thanksgiving. Why don’t you guys and Crista come along with us and make sure this is the right place for the money? I don’t know if you’re up for something like this, but why not?”

Vietnam? I knew nothing about the place, other than old stories about the war. It seemed so faraway and foreign. It seemed like the farthest place in the world from Neosho, Missouri, and Thanksgiving dinner and birthday celebrations and family expectations…

I accepted immediately.

That impulsive trip to Vietnam changed not only her own life but also the lives of many children around the world. The more Pam learned about the orphans in Vietnam and other suffering children around the world, the more she felt compelled to help them in whatever way she could. She had never been involved in charity work before, but now she felt as if she could make a difference in the world, one child at a time. Along the way, Pam discovered how to fill a void in her life that had been there long before her son died.

It was difficult to read about some of the things that Pam encountered in her quest: abandoned children with disabilities in Vietnam, very young girls forced to become prostitutes to support their families in Cambodia, and children as young as five years old forced into slavery in Ghana, Africa. But this is not a depressing book; on the contrary, the things that Pam is able to do to help these children are inspiring and uplifting. She takes her own suffering and pain and uses it as motivation to give to others with passion and commitment. And in the process of helping these children, the children help Pam, too.

It’s a heartwarming story that opened my eyes to some of the terrible things that children face around the world but also to the remarkable difference a single person can make. Don’t avoid this story as I did because of its sadness; instead, open yourself to its joys and inspiration and maybe let it change your life, too.

Grand Central Publishing, 320 pages.


  1. I read an except of this book in Reader's Digest (of all places). Pam's story was compelling and inspiring. Thanks for a great review.

  2. wow i enjoyed ur review! I got chills! My little brother is turning fifteen at the beginning of next year and it just kind of gets to you that something so unthinkable could possibly happen at a kid that age or any age, especially for a mother.. thanks for letting me know about this book! I will def put it on my to read list!

  3. Glad you pointed out this memoir to me, Sue. Yes, it has similar topics to Dragon House set in Vietnam! Street children the world over need all the help they can get!